I’m irritable and don’t know why, so what kind of poet am I, alleged practitioner of the art of examined feelings? Can’t settle to work, can’t settle to anything, go dig in the dirt. Weeding: a job that’s never done, the job my mother did endlessly. As soon as the afternoon rain ended, she was out in steamy Florida air—weeds pull up easily then, roots and all—and returned to the house calmer. But not me, not today. Today three loads of weeds don’t stop my monkey mind’s swinging from peeve to peeve, feeling anew the pang of my mother’s death, though it’s been five years, fuming about the thudding bass coming from the apartments. I don’t make you listen to Bach fugues, do I? Why do you make me listen to your moronic beat? It’s a snarly mood, like I want to slap someone—idiot Trump would do—want to scream at climate change deniers: the evidence is in, Jack, it’s on us. We just gave permits to Shell to drill in the Arctic of all bad ideas and speaking of Big Oil (those corporations who are people and run the country and don’t give a shit about the rest of us) we’ve known for decades that fracking’s injection wells induce earthquakes and done nothing about it. Looking in the mirror doesn’t help: I’m over this aging crap, this wrinkling, discoloring skin, each day’s aches and pains, the way an hour of weeding leaves me sore. I’m waiting and I hate waiting. I’m waiting for the translation job to get here so I can finish it and I’m waiting for the will to stick to a diet and exercise for more than two days running and I’m waiting to find a cause for this two-year headache and I’m waiting for it to rain and I’m waiting to absorb the shock of seeing my stepson after open heart surgery, that long sutured incision down the middle of his chest, his face an old man’s. I’m waiting to find out how long it takes to stop feeling guilt and grief about my dead, whose number increases. I’m waiting for people to wake up, but by God I’m not waiting for a rebirth of wonder because I’m nursing this sulk too, sucking it up through a straw, tasting every bit before I’m willing to let it go.
We go to eat at Leña, which means firewood, their specialty the white oak grilled asado section of the menu, and at 5 it’s sunny, but impressively dark thunderclouds hover to the west as we set out. We imagine driving around and around for parking, imagine being drenched, but find a meter in the very block, and the oak gives savory taste to skewered veggies and pork and the décor is día de los muertos, the ubiquitous esqueletos and calaveras Posada never gets credit for, that we’ve made into T-shirt clichés, but I like seeing them anyway. As we finish Phil, that devil, says you know, Sweet Action is in this block: salted butterscotch, peppermint fudge, chocolate mole, whiskey pecan…Sun streams in storefront windows as we have ice cream after which clouds recover the sky and we’re contented walking back to the car, and look, Phil is walking, walking without pain, and even suggests, that bookstore in the next block, the door’s open. Ah, that pristine first edition in dust jacket of Leaf Storm and Other Stories I found in Brooklyn! We remember places by the books we found there, but our bookscouting days are done: we haven’t been in this store for years. It has a coffee bar now, two deadly serious young men on laptops, a big vinyl section, loud rap music with mothafugah in the chorus and a young couple giggling together in a corner. I’m looking at shabby old books and thinking, “I’m ready to go,” when the noise stops and suddenly Nina Simone, “I Put a Spell on You,” floods me with memories of waitressing in a California jazz club and the incomparable Nina Simone on the jukebox when the band took a break. I’m browsing the poetry, one narrow shelf, become aware as I slide a book back, that someone’s behind me: a young Chicano, longish black hair, apologizes. Also apologetic, I say, “this is all the poetry they have,” pull out that book again: “this is cool, a verse novel, a narrative poem, the poet’s from Colorado.” “Oh, Ludlow,” he says. “People should know about that. I think I’ll buy it if you don’t.” “Be my guest,” I say, smiling. And here I am pushing poetry on unsuspecting young men and getting a hit of Nina Simone on a Wednesday night, and here’s Phil walking comfortably up and down the block, and when we leave the bookstore a fast spatter of rain has come and gone without our even knowing it.